While Russian and European leaders play global games of cat and mouse, ordinary people suffer, and are reduced to smuggling basic foodstuffs like European cheese into Russia.
A Russian man was confounded by Russian border guards as he attempted to cross from Poland to the Kaliningrad Oblast yesterday with 460kg of European cheese in the boot of his car, contravening present food bans. The Guardian reports that the man claimed he was not smuggling for commercial purposes, and was presumably just a fan of good cheese – he told customs officials that he was aware of the law but hoped he would not be searched. The volume of cheese exceeded the small amount Russian customs permit for ‘personal use’.
Russia instituted wide-ranging bans on the import of European-made foodstuffs into Russia in a bid to harm EU agribusiness in retaliation for European sanctions on the Russian economy last year. The cheese business has been one of the most visible sectors affected by the ban. Large amounts of cheese specifically for the Russian market were laid down for ageing months and years before the ban. That cheese is now reaching maturity but finding it has no market.
Finland was swamped with cut-price cheese last year. Local producers who had previously done swift trade with their Russian neighbours suddenly found themselves with large quantities of Russian-labelled cheese for export. They couldn’t shift it and flooded the home market instead.
Russian cheese makers have even tried to imitate popular European cheeses instead, with varying degrees of success.
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